Monday, July 27, 2020

Greens Frustrate Me

The greens in my palette.

I probably spend more time thinking about the greens in my urban sketching pencil palette than any other hue. When I’m sitting in my comfy studio with plenty of time to layer and mix, I thoroughly enjoy looking for a variety of greens to use together or just the right combination of yellow and blue to layer a lovely green. On location, however, I want to carry as few pencils as possible and still be able to convey a variety of local foliage. I would like to have a good range of greens to choose from so that I can vary my selection as needed.

That’s why greens often frustrate me when I look through my (admittedly vast) colored pencil collection. A typical large set of colored pencils will have several weird greens that are mostly useless for urban sketching because nothing in the natural world resembles them. (I’m sure other artists have uses for those greens, but I always look at any selection with urban sketching in mind.) When I took Crystal Shin’s botanical drawing workshop, she mentioned how unreliable the names of pencil colors are (and urged us to test colors on paper before choosing them, as the barrels can be equally unreliable). She showed us many examples from her own collection – “Grass Green” and “Leaf Green” were two. She laughed about how neither hue resembles anything she’s seen on a plant. I was relieved to hear her say this, because I have ranted many times to myself about some ridiculously unnatural colors that show up among green colored pencils, most often labeled “grass green.” After finding so many odd greens in sets, it’s now my rule to buy most greens open stock.

Caran d'Ache Emerald Green: Ideal for Seattle's
compost and recycle bins.
There’s one exception to my comment about most unnatural greens being useless for urban sketching: Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Emerald Green (210; also available in the Supracolor line with the same number), also known as Seattle Recycle Bin Green. I use the same green for Seattle street signs. (OK, so it may not be an important hue for most urban sketchers, but we all know that color palettes are personal and idiosyncratic.) During my minimalism challenges, I usually take this green out, and I always regret it. It can’t be mixed easily, and it’s important to me to visually distinguish trash cans from foliage (example at right).

Back to more “natural” greens: I currently carry four in my daily-carry, which is a significant portion of my full palette. Caran d’Ache Olive Yellow (015, available in both Museum Aquarelle and Supracolor) is a relatively recent addition. I used to bring it along in early spring when brand-new leaves take on that special hue of yellow-green. Then when I started seeking out backlit views, I realized it was just right for that nearly yellow, light-filled green that fringes foliage. Now Cd’A Olive Yellow is a permanent part of my palette.

I tend to use Caran d’Ache Olive (249, Museum Aquarelle and Supracolor) as my neutral green, then bring in the others for the sunny or shady side.

Museum Aquarelle Light Olive (245) used to be my sunny-side green, but I use it less often lately because Olive Yellow is so much sunnier. I might eventually remove Light Olive.

As I already discussed at length in my post about traditional colored pencils, one green in my palette is unique and apparently has no match in any other line I own: Museum Aquarelle Dark Phthalocyanine Green (719). Useful for both pines and the shaded side of deciduous trees, this versatile green pulls a lot of weight in my palette.

7/21/20 Here's how I like to use several greens that go well together to represent
 foliage in the shade or sun.
I occasionally bring in other greens (usually seasonally, like a bluer one in winter), but these three – 015, 249 and 719 – have become essential because each works well individually while also harmonizing together. Painters create a cohesive palette when they mix a variety of colors from a small number of hues that play well together. With pencils, I’m not mixing in the same way that painters do, but each pencil must earn its keep in my bag by playing well with others, too.

I bet every sketcher, even those with deliberately limited palettes, has some essential greens they rely on. What are yours?


  1. Tina, thank you for your uplifting and informative (and fun!) blog! Greens are so hard to match, so I’ve had the same problem as you matching natural looking colors. So I’m going to see about trying out your greens!

    1. Thanks, Cathy! So many greens... so few that work (for me, anyway)!

  2. Greens will work the same as any other color. If you match the temperature and the value, the hue will take care of itself. Green in bright sunlight can often be expressed as pale yellow. In deep shade, it can be dark cool blue. Yes, this is "watercolor logic," but it applies here, too. Also, as I learned from Shari, it's important to vary it with the opposite value/temp. If you have a big dark green shape like the shady side of a big tree, add a touch of yellow here and there keeps it lively. The opposite would be true for a big sunny leafy canopy. Add a touch of blue. Not so much as to radically change the overall temp/value but just enough to subtly keep it from being one huge shape of all the same. It will be interesting to see how that principle works with cps.

    1. I've tried this with colored pencils (and studied it when I was taking the colored pencil class a few years ago), but it's harder to make the colors blend in a natural way than it is with watercolors, where the water flow helps so much in doing the blending. At my desk with more time to work on the blending, it looks a lot better. In the field, I rely more on the hues themselves to do the work because I'm working so fast.

    2. Oh, I meant to include a link to the post that has an example of a class exercise using the principle you described:


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